Space, Contexts, and Crime

Space, Contexts, and Crime

Independent Research Group

The research group focusses on the role of spatial contexts in criminology. Large portions of crime such as inter­personal violence, burglary, or vandalism continue to be rooted in concrete geographic space. Crime is more fre­quent in larger cities, and heavily concentrated in some micro-spaces within urban areas. Why do some cities, neigh­bor­hoods and micro-spaces suffer from high crime loads, and what are the effects of crime on the social fabric and future devel­op­ment of urban communities? We pursue innovative approaches to the study of causes and con­se­quences of crime in geographic contexts and look at the role of spatial contexts on different levels, from urban micro-spaces and neigh­bor­hoods to larger societal contexts.


Research Topics

Crime and disorder differentially affect urban neighborhoods, and a strong research stream in criminology analyzes the associations and feedback effects between socio-demographic structure, collective social processes, and crime on the level of small urban areas. Rooted in the ‘systemic model’, social inequalities and segregation are linked to levels of social cohesion and informal social control (collective efficacy) which may influence crime levels. Per­cep­tions of disorder and insecurity, community attachment, as well as interethnic relations and police legitimacy are important social mechanisms influencing the resilience and development of urban neighborhoods.

We contribute to this research by pursuing a long-term study of 140 neighborhoods in Cologne and Essen, two large cities in North-Rhine Westphalia, based on a multi-wave community survey and systematic social observation, matched to sociodemographic and crime data.

The increasing availability of georeferenced digital data has pushed research that focusses on the spatial hetero­ge­neity of crime on very small geographic levels below the neighbourhood level. Among ‘big data’ sources of potential interest for criminologists are calls for service data, social media and mobile phone data. The analysis of crime at micro-places poses challenges for both theory and modelling. Environmental criminology has tended to favor rou­tine activity theory at the expense of more balanced approaches, while integrative analytical approaches are still rare. On the methodological side, ‘egohoods’ have emerged as an innovative approach to model spatial effects at micro-spaces, close to where crime happens, instead of using traditional neighborhood boundaries.

Insecurity perceptions are complex social cognitions, known to be shaped on many different levels, from individual personality, neighborhood conditions up to macro-societal contexts. Apart from concrete fears of becoming a vic­tim of crime, the “expressive” functions of fear of crime relate to more general worries about personal security in a wider sense. Previous research has shown that national welfare policies can account for much of the cross-national variation of fear of crime in Europe. We expand this research by investigating the impact of macro-level socio-economic conditions on fear of crime not just cross-sectionally, but over time, against the backdrop of the Great Recession, and using data from the European Social Survey.

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